As the average age of the Oregon farmer climbs, Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba is beginning to worry.
"I'm a bit concerned by the numbers and not sure what the dynamics are that might be contributing to that number," says Coba.
The latest U.S. Census of Agriculture shows that the aging of the Oregon farmer is a continuing trend, showing that the average farm principal operator is 57.5 years old. That's an increase form 2002 figures from the Census that put the average age at 54.9.
As recently as 1982, the average age was only 50.4 years. Data suggests there is a general graying of the Oregon farmer, Coba notes, which follow a national trend.
"It's possible that younger farm and ranch operators are simply getting out of the business," she says, noting that the decline may relate to the economic health of Oregon agriculture.
"I think we have to focus on keeping agriculture in Oregon viable and showing that the industry is a place younger people can come into," she says. "Anything we can do to promote a good business climate and help farmers be successful, that's where we need to focus our attention."
The Census asks for information on up to three operators involved with the farm. These are individuals who may not be the senior operator, but are very much a part of the farm and may be in position to become principal operators someday.
The stats show that the second and third operators on Oregon farms are significantly younger than the principal operator. The assumption is that many are children or older family members.
"The Census shows secondary operators are younger," notes Coba. "That makes more sense to me. We have a lot of younger people working on the farm. In many cases, the father is still listed as the primary operator, but it might be the son or daughter listed as a secondary operator who does the majority of the work."